SALN violations top articles of impeachment against Sereno

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 19) — The House Committee on Justice, voting 33-1, approved the articles of impeachment against embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Monday.

"Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has failed to live up to the standards imposed by the Constitution and the Supreme Court upon members of the Judiciary. She has, by her own acts, caused the diminution of public faith in the Judiciary," the 56-paged articles of impeachment read.

Sereno's spokesperson, lawyer Josa Deinla, said the vote was expected.

"The committee report, as predicted, sets forth matters that are either contrary to evidence presented to the committee or  manifestly biased or one-sided, and that fail to rise to the level of impeachable offenses," Deinla said in a statement.

She added Sereno "eagerly awaits" the transmittal of the articles to the Senate, that will convene as impeachment court.

The House panel listed six articles of impeachment in the report. First is her alleged violations in her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), on top of other issues.

Quoting the resolution on the articles of impeachment, Justice panel chair Reynaldo Umali said Sereno must be impeached for allegedly violating the Constitution, betraying public trust, and committing other high crimes when she "deliberately failed" to file her SALN 17 times.

The report stated Sereno had no SALN for the years 1987 to 1997, 1999 to 2001, and 2003 to 2006, when she taught at the University of the Philippines.

Umali said Sereno "misrepresented" herself as a person of integrity and probity when she applied as associate justice in 2010 and as chief justice in 2012.

"In fact she is not, as shown by her overt acts of deceiving and misleading the Judicial and Bar Council when she could not submit her SALNs from 1996 to 2006," Umali said.

Aside from non-filing of SALN, the House panel said Sereno did not declare a 2.24-hectare property in Mariveles, Bataan with current zoning value of P44 million, registered in Sereno and her husband's name.

Umali, in an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday, said issues in her SALN make the strongest charge against Sereno.

He noted that Sereno's predecessor, the late Renato Corona was impeached for omissions in his SALNs. Umali, who served as prosecutor in the Corona trial, has said Sereno's violations were even worse than Corona's.

"This is a sequel of the previous impeachment... there were two properties undisclosed but more than that there were 17 SALNs not filed, this is even worse," Umali said.

READ: Umali: Sereno's violations worse than Corona's

In a phone interview with CNN Philippines, Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno's spokespersons, said the alleged non-filing of SALNs could not be used in the impeachment case.

"Previous to becoming an impeachable official, a justice, pano naman naging relevant yan (how can that be relevant)?" Lacanilao said, Friday.

He also denied Sereno has undeclared properties.

The Solicitor General has filed a quo warranto petition asking the Supreme Court to void Sereno's appointment for failing to file her SALN, a requirement of the JBC for those applying for the post.

JBC Executive Director Annaliza Ty-Capacite in a February 12 hearing told lawmakers the body considered as "substantial compliance" Sereno's submission of three SALNs, covering 2009, 2010, and 2011.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines on March 8, the day the justice panel found probable cause to impeach Sereno, the Chief Justice said, "Many wrong things were said about my SALN."

She said she would answer them once her case reaches Senate trial, as she did not want to preempt her defense.

If at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives vote to impeach Sereno, the complaint would go to trial at the Senate.

A conviction in just one article is enough to oust Sereno.

Corruption

The House panel also accused Sereno of corruption and betrayal of public trust when she misused P18 million in public funds to show her "grandiose sense of self-importance" by purchasing a P5-million Toyota Land Cruiser for service vehicle, and the hiring of an information technology expert with an P11-million compensation.

In addition, Sereno also allegedly selected Shangri-La Boracay as the venue of a meeting with ASEAN chief justices, which cost around  P3 million, without proper canvassing.

Abuse of power

Umali said another article of impeachment involves Sereno's alleged abuse of power as ex-officio Chairperson of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) in several instances.

Among which, her alleged hand in excluding Court of Appeals (CA) Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas-Peralta from the shortlist of nominees for the position of CA presiding justice.

Peralta's husband, Supreme Court Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, revealed this in one of the hearings.

Lacanilao denied the accusation, saying the JBC only implemented its rules. "Under the Sereno chairmanship, hinigpitan na nila yung mga rules kasi dati very lax sila (They were stricter in the rules because they were very lax before)."

Undermining Congress

In another article, the justice panel accused Sereno of undermining and disregarding the mandate of separation of powers among the three branches of government in several instances, Umali said.

The panel said Sereno interfered when she advised justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) on how to handle their standoff with lawmakers over the detention of six Ilocos Norte government employees, or "Ilocos 6," who were accused of misusing tobacco funds.

READ: CA justice: Sereno intervention in 'Ilocos 6' case shows 'lack of delicadeza'

The panel also noted Sereno disrespected impeachment proceedings when she did not attend any of them.

But Lacanilao said it was the lawmakers who rejected Sereno's request to allow her lawyers to examine witnesses on her behalf.

Watch the hearing here: